[personal profile] nansense
Sorry folks, no more fic posts yet (one in a day isn't enough for you??), but I thought I'd change tack a little and list a few of my pro-slash recs to tide you over.


In a forum such as this where there's a huge amount of acceptance and openness to slash, it can seem bizarre that the attitude towards pro-slash in RL isn't at all the same. Speaking as a librarian, I can say that there is a kind of impasse towards LGBT-Q materials, wherein their existence is accepted but not necessarily celebrated or proliferated the way they should be. Where I live, there are very few LGBT-Q bookstores (though we do have one absolutely amazing one here in Toronto - GLAD Day Bookshop, definitely check it out if you live in the area), and it's a rare sight for one of the major chains to highlight works that express these themes. Sometimes a display will pop up during Pride week, but that's not enough--it's not like our lives stop and start during that one week in June. (Quite frankly, we're just as likely to start seeing book displays about Atheism - although I personally would enjoy signage that reads, "Atheism YAY!") While I'm glad that we don't see these materials actively shunned by the literary world, at least not to the same extent that they once were, there is still not a large market for them. (Anyone who has tried to publish a mainstream pro-slash novel would probably attest to this. These writers are frequently relegated to independent presses or self-publishing before they're even acknowledged by the mass-market publishers.)

One of the ways in which this is reinforced is by looking at library trends, which is a pretty good reflection of public reading habits and popular themes. The public library system for which I work has a very firm policy towards housing materials that represent and reflect all lifestyles and points of view, but where LGBT-Q materials are concerned, the effort is pretty embarrassing. They exist, but there is no really effective way to search for them in the catalogue, and very little is done to place these items in the spotlight. In fact, they are often relegated to special collections that can be difficult to get to, or are banished to the bowels of a reference library, which is the fate of titles of which there is only one copy available in the system (and also prevents us from ordering more). It's sort of a vicious cycle--hardly anyone knows about the materials we do have, which leads to poor circulation and copies being discarded or thrown out, followed by banishment of the single remaining copy to reference status (ie. the book can't be checked out or placed on hold). Should someone actually want to look at these items, they either have to make a special trip and do their reading in-library, or cave in and order the book from Amazon (and then the library complains that they can't compete with major booksellers).

Jeez, Nanoochka - bitter much?

Why yes, now that you mention it.

As much as classification issues, poor resources and information literacy are frequently to blame for these titles being overlooked. Many libraries don't have an effective system for gathering LQBT-Q materials together: for instance, we will rarely utilize a heading that specifies, "Gay--Lesbian--LQBT-Q--fiction", etc (library folk will know what I mean), which is how people in the field can conduct a broader search by subject type, rather than by title (and who can keep track of the titles of all the LQBT-Q materials out there?). This is not a matter of pigeonholing materials which happen to reflect or express homosexual themes - it is merely a matter of cross-referencing these items so that they are infinitely easier to find. The more subject headings attached to an item, the better the likelihood that someone will find it. Simple - we've been employing these techniques for as long as there's been cataloguing, and yet we continue to drop the ball in this area (speaking exclusively for my library system - maybe other places have it down pat). More frequently, people just have no idea how to isolate a search to show only LQBT-Q materials, if that's what they're looking for. We can isolate for other genres such as Mystery or Historical fiction, but not this--and it makes browsing difficult. Because it's rare for library staff to actually showcase these materials (I tried once, and people actually fucking complained), the meager LGBT-Q collection we do have remains overlooked and the vicious cycle begins again.

So this, for me, is a way to pick a bone with the public library way of doing things, and actively celebrate some of the amazing LGBT-Q titles that exist out there. I'll also include links to some of the great databases that actually allow for users to browse titles which fall under the LGBT-Q/gay/lesbian subject heading (at least someone is paying attention) without much difficulty. If you live in Toronto or in proximity to a public library system, do see if you can reserve or check out these items so that their circulation remains strong (and more copies get purchased!), and if not, requests can always be made for these materials to be purchased. A lot of librarians who know the score will routinely encourage people to check out random books just to keep them on the shelves, and this is kind of like that.

I know that was an incredibly geeky rant, but it's something that bothers me a great deal and seems to be a consistently-underappreciated issue in my field. It's always disappointing when a public service doesn't represent you to the extent you deserve, and in this day and age there's no excuse for a particular lifestyle to be neglected or, worse, brushed off.

As Meat Loves Salt by Maria McCann
Ah, historical fiction - one of my greatest weaknesses. Set during the English Civil War, As Meat Loves Salt is the incredibly vivid, sprawling tale of Jacob Cullen, a man who flees his family and new wife after being accused of murdering another man. He joins Cromwell's army and meets Christopher Ferris, a brilliant idealist who ultimately takes Jacob into his home, teaches him the ropes of pamphlet printing, and becomes his lover. Aside from the amazing historical accuracy and fantastic characterizations, the chemistry between Ferris and Jacob is smoking hot. It's a bit of a trippy tale and can drag on in places (especially if you want to jump to the slashy bits), but I re-read this every so often just to get swept up in its amazing world.

The Charioteer by Mary Renault
This is my favourite book of all time, hands down. Renault, quite the slasher herself, was a student of Tolkien's and put her vast historical knowledge to use by writing a number of books about Ancient Greece, including the well-known Last of the Wine, but The Charioteer was the only thing she wrote contemporary to her own time, and about WWII. Laurie, the protagonist, is an injured soldier sent to convalesce back in England, where he's forced to reconcile himself not only to life as a former soldier, but a closeted homosexual. The language in this book is absolutely breathtaking--and heartbreaking--and I read it every year without fail.

The Vintner's Luck by Elizabeth Knox
This one is a bit of a no-brainer for fans of Cas--the book's protagonist, Sobran, is a young French vintner who gets drunk one evening and almost falls to his death by tumbling down a hill. He is saved by an angel named Xas, and the two make a pact to meet on that night every year for the rest of Sobran's life to share wine and stories. Ultimately they fall in love, but each year of Sobran's life is narrated beautifully and the story takes a number of truly unexpected twists, right down to Lucifer's surprise appearance. Nikki Caro, who directed Whale Rider, also directed an adaptation of this book. The movie wasn't great, but worth seeing if you can manage to find it.

Sugarless by James Magruder
There aren't enough gay dramedies out there, but luckily Sugarless is a wonderful exception. Magruder does a great job of capturing the tone and atmosphere of 70s Chicago, and the main character, the 15-year-old Rick Lahrem, has a hilarious and offbeat voice. The book takes us through his awkward adolescence, coming out and affair with a coach with surprising deftness, and I laughed out loud quite a few times. It also delves way further into the world of dramatic interpretation than you ever thought possible.

Frontiers by Michael Jensen (lol!)
I can't say that this book is a literary masterpiece, and to be honest it sometimes reads more like fanfiction than anything, but I have to say that it was a fun read and pretty steamy in the slash department. The book follows the tale of John Chapman, a wanted sodomite who takes to the American frontier in order to escape persecution and make a life for himself. Drama ensues. The author's use of historical fact was very well-taken and he obviously did his research, even if some of the characters didn't come through as well as they could have. It's a bit difficult to find copies of this anywhere unless you order it online, but is still worth a read if you're looking for something fun and full of adventure.

Earthly Joys by Philippa Gregory
There was a time before Philippa Gregory did nothing but write bestselling Elizabethan court intrigue with lots of sex and beheadings, and Earthly Joys is my absolute favourite thing that she's written. As you might expect, it's pretty long and spans quite a long period, but the love story is so beautiful and heartbreaking that I can read this thing every year and not get bored of it. John Tradescant, real-life historical figure, royal gardener and one of England's first museum curators, is an intriguing character with immense loyalty, and an entertaining preoccupation with plants. He falls in love with his employer, George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham and the favourite of Charles II, and as much as you want to shake him by the shoulders and tell him to give it up, you can't help but admire his devotion and love for his Lord.

At Swim, Two Boys and Disturbance by Jamie O'Neill
Two Irish boys, Jim and Doyler, fall in love in the time leading up to and during the horrific events of Easter Rising in 1916, before the Irish War of Independence. This book is quite a long read, but pretty fascinating in its treatment of homosexuality, adolescence, friendship, and patriotism. It's not quite a happy read throughout, but worth a look. Definitely it's a book that stays with you for a long time, especially if you're someone who has any interest in Irish history.

Disturbance was published quite a while before At Swim and isn't nearly as engrossing a read, but it's nevertheless an interesting investigation into Irishness, mental illness and homosexuality.

Maurice by E. M. Forster
What can't be said about Maurice... it's absolutely magical and a must-read. My old copy has so dog-eared and covered with notes that it's barely legible anymore, which is a good thing that I could practically recite the damn thing from memory by now. The movie also happens to feature a baby-faced Hugh Grant and James Wilby getting their slash on, so if you aren't into reading the book, definitely dig up the movie. And Rupert Graves! Sigh.

Dream Boy by Jim Grimsley
This book can be a bit of a buzzkill, I'd admit, because the ending just broke my heart and made me want to disown humanity, but the language is so lovely and transportative that it's hard not to read through to the end. It's a really lovely coming-of-age and love story between the shy, awkward Nathan and the boy next door, enigmatic and popular Roy. It deals with sexual abuse and a sickening amount of homophobia and hate crimes, so there might be triggery stuff in here, but like I said its a beautiful story and absolutely engrossing.

Short History of a Prince by Jane Hamilton
Unlike a lot of other gay coming-of-age stories, I don't feel like Short History makes as much of a fuss over its protagonist's sexuality as is expected of the genre. For me, the focus was more about the main character, Walter's realization that life rarely turns out the way we expect, and his struggle to deal with the loss of his younger brother from cancer. The way Hamilton splits his story between his high school years in the 1970s, and the present, is an interesting device that really makes Walter's character shine through, along with a fantastic cast of supporting personalities.

Angels in America by Tony Kushner
Nuff said.

Enduring Love by Ian McEwan
This is more of a creepy stalker thriller than it is slashy fun times, but McEwan is one of my favourite authors and this deserved a mention. I guess the slashiness is more of an afterthought, but McEwan writes obsession extremely well, and does a fascinating job of building up how a single tragic incident can both change a person's life and inextricably link them to another, even someone they're desperate to be away from. I also like to think of this as the Daniel Craig movie no one ever saw, starring a Welsh guy as the total fucking nutter (Samantha Morton is in it, though, so we take what we can get, do the Welsh).

The Book of Salt by Monique Truong
I consider this book a fantastic read in general, but if you happen to have more than a passing interest in Gertrude Stein (or, Gertrudestein, as she's known in the book) and Alice B. Toklas, you should drop whatever you're doing right now and go read it. Told from the point of view of the Vietmanese cook, Binh, we get a hilarious and intriguing (fictional, speculative) perspective on this great literary household, as well as a fascinating look at Binh's own history, and how he came to live with "the Steins". Truly delightful.

Part 2 to come shortly. If there are any recs that you don't see listed in this post or the next, please let me know! I'm always on the lookout for new reads and suggestions.

Date: 2011-01-03 10:50 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] writingpathways.livejournal.com
I loved The Hours, and tried to read another of Cunningham's but couldn't get into it, can't even remember the title. I'm thinkingI might be printing this out and taking it to my local library, hopefully they will have some :-)

Date: 2011-01-04 01:11 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] nanoochka.livejournal.com
Specimen Days was probably his more inaccessible work, though I loved it myself to a ridiculous extent. Definitely a bit more dense and experimental, though.

If your library doesn't have these titles, definitely put in a purchase request. Unfortunately it's sometimes the only way these books get picked up.

Date: 2011-01-03 11:07 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] obstinatrix.livejournal.com
Also, aaaaaah, all my favourites are here. As Meat Loves Salt is one of my favourite books ever, and I completely agree with you about Earthly Joys and At Swim, Two Boys.

Date: 2011-01-03 11:13 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] nanoochka.livejournal.com
Oh my god, yes. Did you cry at the end of Earthly Joys? I have no idea how it happened, but I read that last fucking line and then realized I was literally sobbing.

Date: 2011-01-03 11:18 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] obstinatrix.livejournal.com
I actually, believe it or not, did not realise Earthly Joys was going to be a gay novel, because, you know, I just found it somewhere in a second-hand shop or something, and thought I was reading in the 'slashiness' up until it became actually blatant. I was so ridiculously pleased! And, yes, I think I did cry. I loved the characters in that book so much.

Date: 2011-01-04 01:16 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] nanoochka.livejournal.com
I honestly think I have a sixth sense for being able to pick the gay books off the shelf - I can literally look at a bunch of covers and intuit which one will involve lots of slash, even if there aren't embarrassingly underdressed cowboys on the front. Gregory doesn't really shy from that aspect of Elizabethan life, though - even The Other Boleyn Girl had those aspects. I think what surprised me the most was how different the book read from the rest of her oeuvre. Virgin Earth, the sequel, wasn't at all slashy, but just as riveting. Methinks her style went a bit downhill when she started getting pressure to produce more bestsellers within a shorter time frame.

Date: 2011-01-03 11:18 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] exmanhater.livejournal.com
Simple - we've been employing these techniques for as long as there's been cataloguing, and yet we continue to drop the ball in this area

Exactly - I couldn't have said it better. Sadly, it's just as bad at my library system. I conducted some subject heading search experiments to try and find all of our queer teen fiction, and we had four different headings, and none of the books had more than one. So if you found one heading, it wouldn't help you find any of the others unless you had a specific title in mind. Made me spitting mad!

Anyway, thanks for the recs :)

Date: 2011-01-04 01:18 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] nanoochka.livejournal.com
Yeah, it's really frustrating to see - and unfortunately with my system they make it really difficult for the librarians to go in and just change the catalogue or add subject headings THAT MAKE SENSE. There's a ridiculous bureaucratic process wherein we have to submit a written request proposing a catalogue change, and then it has to be approved. All of our materials are processed at a central location before being sent out to the libraries, so we have almost zero control of how things are recorded at the branch level. :(

It's both reassuring and depressing to know that other librarians have the same beef.

Date: 2011-01-04 03:52 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] exmanhater.livejournal.com
Yeah, we're all pretty much in the same boat, from what I've seen in different systems. There are some positives from centralizing collection development, but the downsides are really huge. I'm not even sure we can suggest subject headings at my system! (If we can, I doubt our suggestions are taken very often...)

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